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High Up Above & Down Below: Istanbul

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“We were like ordinary Istanbul dwellers. We either idealized yesterday, or fantasised about tomorrow. We tried to feign that today didn’t exist. On the one hand we told the story of the past and on the other we told the story of the future. And we thought of the present as the bridge between the past and the future. We were terrified of that bridge collapsing, of plummeting into the void below. We ruminated incessantly over this question that we couldn’t get out of our minds: who possessed today, to whom did today belong?”

Burhan Sönmez, İstanbul İstanbul: A Novel, Telegram Books, 2016, p. 158-159.

On 24 August we will be welcoming prize-winning Turkish novelist, Burhan Sönmez to talk about the current social and political climate in Turkey through his recently published novel, İstanbul İstanbul: A Novel. Translated from the Turkish by Ümit Hussein and published by Telegram in the UK, Sönmez’s third novel has been translated into twenty languages including Arabic, French, German, Danish, Italian, Romanian and Polish. Sönmez will be in conversation with Sarah Clarke, Advocacy Manager for PEN International. Clarke has a particular focus on press freedom in Turkey.

Set after a military coup, İstanbul İstanbul tells the story of how five prisoners held in cells under the ancient streets of Istanbul withstand the torture and oppression they are subjected to as they take shelter in the Istanbul stories they tell one another. Four men, Demirtay the student, the doctor, Uncle Küheylan and Kamo the barber share their loneliness in one cell while, across the hall, a woman prisoner suffers solitary confinement. The sixth – and perhaps the most significant – character, is the city of Istanbul with its pain and pleasures. The plot of the novel is the relationship between these five people who were previously unacquainted, their pasts and present.

This will be Burhan Sönmez’s only appearance in London after the Edinburgh International Book Festival. So don’t miss this opportunity to hear about his profoundly moving novel as well as his insights into the political turmoil in contemporary Turkey.

Copies of İstanbul İstanbul will be available on sale after the talk. A book signing and drinks reception featuring refreshing pomegranate gin fizz and chilled prosecco will also follow.

About the Author

Burhan Sönmez is an internationally prize-winning novelist whose works have been translated into over twenty languages. Sönmez was born in Central Anatolia in 1965 and later moved to Istanbul where he worked as a lawyer. He was a founder of the social-activist cultural organisation TAKSAV (Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art) and wrote on literature, culture and politics for various newspapers and magazines. Sönmez was seriously injured following an assault by Turkish police in 1996 and had to receive treatment in Britain, where he remained in exile for several years. He now lectures at METU University in Ankara and lives in Istanbul.

About the Moderator

Sarah Clarke is the Advocacy Manager for PEN International, the global association of writers which works to defend freedom of expression and writers at risk. Sarah directs PEN’s policy and advocacy on freedom of expression concerns at the UN, regional human rights mechanisms and national levels and has focused in particular on the deteriorating situation of press freedom in Turkey. She holds an MA in Literature and Modern History from Trinity College, Dublin and an MSc in Forced Migration from the University of Oxford. She is currently training as a barrister at the English Bar where she is an Exhibition Scholar of the Inner Temple.

Praise for İstanbul İstanbul

“A writer of passion, memory and heart, Sönmez revives not only the stories of a land but also its bruised conscience.” Elif Shafak

“A profoundly moving novel about the transformative power of words in times of desperation.” Ece Temelkuran

“A harrowing, riveting novel.” Dale Peck

To book tickets for this event please click here.

General: £10 Concessions: £8 Asia House Arts Members: £5

Asia House Arts Members need to enter their unique membership number when booking online. This can be found on the back of your membership card. Please call 0207 307 5454 if you experience any issues booking tickets.


August 24, 2017
18:45 - 20:00
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